Elizabeth Moulton-Barrett was born on March 6, 1806 in Durham, England to a wealthy family whose fortune came from Jamaican sugar plantations. Her childhood was spent very happily at the family's stately home in Herefordshire, England. She was the eldest of twelve children, and from the beginning something of a child prodigy. Elizabeth began writing at a very young age and published her first works while in her teens. She excelled in Latin and Greek, and could soon read in many modern languages &mdash: French, Italian, Portuguese, etc. Elizabeth's father was a very autocratic man who forbade his children to marry.
From an early age Elizabeth suffered a chronic lung ailment. She spent most of her time in a darkened room writing poety and many letters. The famous English poet Robert Browning admired her "Poems" (1844) so much that he wrote to her. They met, fell in love, and were secretly married in 1846.
Soon after their marriage they ran away to Florence, Italy, where Elizabeth began a remarkable physical recovery. In 1849, they had a son, Robert Wiedeman Barrett Browning. She increasingly took up contemporary issues including the Italian Nationalist cause, the abolition of slavery in the United States, and the position of women in Victorian society. Elizabeth died on June 29, 1861.
Many critics agree that Elizabeth's best poems appear in "Sonnets from the Portuguese," a series of 44 sonnets recording the growth of her love for Robert Browning. ("Portuguese" was Robert's pet name for Elizabeth.) The 43rd is Elizabeth's most famous poem. It begins, "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways."
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